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Lucy insisted that courage didn't work

(Life 168 - Season 1 Episode 1)

Hello, Ningbo...what do you have for me?!

It was May of 2006. It was a five-day holiday for me taking me only three hours to get there by train from Shanghai.

Finding an interpreter and guide

Arriving in the morning and after an early check-in at my hotel, I caught a taxi to the Cuibai campus of the Ningbo University of Technology. Dropping in at one of the cafeterias and asking around, I was connected with Lucy Liu, an English major. I hired her to be my part-time guide and interpreter for my holiday there in Ningbo. She was happy to do it for free, but I insisted on paying her some as an expression of my appreciation.

Talking with the locals about their life

For two days, Lucy and I went here and there, mostly on the various campuses in Ningbo, but also visiting a few other parts of the city. I would stop and start conversations with people on the street as well as students who were sitting or lounging on areas of the various campuses.

Almost always I would be able to strike up conversations where we ended up discussing life problems and issues. Quite often, in these discussions, I would bring up the issue of choosing courage with my conversation partnership. Of course, Lucy was interpreting most of the time, so she was getting a strong impression that I was a big fan of courage. 

"But I don't think courage always works"

Earlier on the third day, Lucy and I were walking leisurely around one of the campuses. She said, "I don't think courage always works." I asked her to describe an example of when she chose courage and it didn't work.

She shared a story of a three-month ordeal the year before when she was preparing to take a very important exam.  In her mind, it was essential that she pass the exam. She arranged her life to put everything else on hold. She pushed herself to start studying no later than 5:30 AM every morning. Taking very short breaks to eat at her desk throughout the day, she only started getting ready for bed after 9:30 PM. It was exhausting and she had to push herself to keep going, reminding herself of how she had to pass the exam.

Finally, exam day came. She had done all she could do. Through all the fear she felt, she had kept choosing courage to keep herself going.

Betrayed by courage

She failed the exam. 

She felt betrayed. She has chosen more courage than she ever had before and pushed herself harder than she had ever done previously. How could she have failed? It was not fair. She felt betrayed by courage.

It was so tough for Lucy

I felt compassion for Lucy. I couldn't imagine myself being able to get through something like that. After listening carefully to ensure I fully understood her story, I asked, "May I share a different idea about courage that might explain how it could have been much easier for you last year?" 

She said, "Go ahead." [FINALE]

"Yes, you took one important step of choosing courage: you acted. It's important to appreciate yourself for that. But three other essential understandings and steps were missing for it to be full courage. Let's go through those steps so that you can know how to choose courage next time, okay? Stop me if you don't understand something."

"If you do it the four-step way, it will be easy and you could even say it always works."

"That's hard to believe," Lucy said skeptically.

"Hear me out. 

"If we're going to do something that's challenging, we need all our power, right? If we want to have the best chance of success, we should have both hands available, make sense?"


"Invariably, when we're nervous or frightened about something, it not pure fear, fear that will just give us energy that we can use. It's resisted fear. Our instant and automatic habit is to resist our fear, to push it down, to confront it by trying to push ourselves through it, right? We're using part of our power, one of our "hands," to try to hold the fear back the fear while using the other "hand" to take on the actions. Not only does this cut our power in half, it also doesn't feel good. Moreover, it keeps the fear in place. Have you heard the expression, "What you resist, persists"?

"But that's the way everybody does it...what else could I do?"

"You're right. We don't know how to do it. That's why you need to know the undoing fear technique. It's a pretty easy but silly technique you can do quickly any time it's needed. Here's how it works."

"Okay, that was fun, but a bit silly. I do feel better and I can feel that starting off with courage that way would make it a lot easier."

"Not only that, Lucy, but the whole courage process and the whole set of processes in taking action will be much easier and maybe even fun when you do it the four-step way. You'll see that as I explain more.

"Quite important to understand, Lucy, is that courage is not foolhardiness. It's something we choose in order to serve our deepest values and commitments. It can serve us in our ability to live and express a life that we love, for creating peace and happiness for us now as well as for our future.


"There is no right or wrong about choosing courage. It's just the most fundamental choice that we always have to step through or not. To the extent that we consistently choose courage, we're more likely to be living the life we want and feeling great about ourselves, regardless of any immediate circumstances. You'll see that more as I take you through the next three steps, okay?"

"Hmmmm...what more could there be?"

"Well, step #1 was undoing fear.

"Now for step #2. Consider the idea that it's not the adult Lucy that is frightened. She can see that, in the big picture, if you should be frightened of something, it would be not taking the action rather than taking it, right?

"But that is not who's frightened. It's that five-year-old little Lucy still very much alive and inside of you that even terrified. 'What if I fail? What if I don't do it right? What will others think of me?' She's the frightened one.

"Stepping into your shoes as an adult, speak to your little girl with compassion and understanding, 'I can see and feel that you're frightened. It's okay to be frightened. And I support you in whatever you choose to do here. If you choose to go ahead and step into taking this action, you are inspiring me so! You have my full support, respect, and admiration. I'm here for you whatever you choose.' Keep supporting her in this way until you can feel that she gets your full acceptance, admiration, respect, and support. Of course, when she gets it, then you the adult also get it, right?"

"I'm not used to doing that. I just think I should do it and if I don't, then I'm worthless."

"Yes, that's why choosing courage has been so hard for you and even makes you feel worse, especially if you don't get the results you wanted.

"Now for step #3, the one we all know about: taking the action, although sometimes it can be the courage to not take an action, for example when you should keep your mouth shut.

"You've ready looked at the big picture and decided that it's worth the risk and effort to go for the results you want. You've accepted the possibility that you could get the results you intend as well as accepting the risk that you won't. You're honoring yourself for your willingness to choose the courage to do that.

"Okay, but you said there are four steps. It seems that it's already complete."

"I know, but we're not. Step #4 is vital, especially long-term. It's essential in helping us strengthen our 'courage muscle' so that over time our overall confidence in our ability to live the life we love gets stronger and choosing courage gets easier and easier.

"Now you know whether you got your intended result. If you got it, then celebrate that, especially with your five-year-old little girl. But more importantly, regardless of whether or to what extent you got the result, you express deep and sincere appreciation to her for her willingness to choose courage and to follow through with the actions.

"Oh, now I see why I felt betrayed. Somehow I thought that if I took all the actions, I was guaranteed to get what I believed I had to have. In the future, when I decide to choose courage, I will accept the risk that I might not get the result I wanted and I'll feel great about myself however it turns out."

"Exaclty. Always prioritize the choice of courage over whether you got the intended results. If you knew the results were guaranteed, there would be no risk and no fear. There were be no courage. We had access to choosing courage and we chose it. That's the main focus. The results are secondary. Sometimes we'll get them and sometimes we won't. We feel great about ourselves whichever way it goes.

"And importantly, if you prioritize courage over results, in the big picture you'll get more desired results than when you assess things first by results.

"Lucy, can you now understand that if you had included all four steps in choosing courage, not only would the process have been easier, but also, even if you didn't get the desired result, you could still say that it worked for you to choose courage. And you would have been very proud of yourself for doing so, right?"

"This opens up a whole new world I never saw before," Lucy admitted.

"Finally, if you learn from your difficult experience so that you choose courage the four-step way for the rest of your life, that will have been a very small price to pay for such an amazing value, don't you agree?"


Extra bonus: just because we don't get what we plan for doesn't mean that what you got wasn't better than what you wanted or, with some added action, could turn out to be better. When something seems like a goft, as yourself, "How could this be a gift or how could I make a gift out of this?"

Coming tomorrow another cliffhanger: "What can Wade do with his wife?"

Lucy learned
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